The Taxi Driver (1975)

The Taxi Driver [的士大佬] (1975)

Starring David Chiang, Wong Chung, Lin Chen-Chi, Shut Chung-Tin, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wu Chi-Chin, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Tung Lam, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, Lai Man, Helen Ko, Dana, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate.


Pao Hsueh-Li was a protege of Chang Cheh, but his films often just feel like lesser versions of something Chang Cheh would’ve made. The Taxi Driver is different. It’s the first of Pao’s films to really get under my skin, and it gives me hope that his films going forward might carry a similar style and artistic slant. The film’s focus on then-modern social problems does make it feel somewhat related to Chang’s delinquent youth pictures, but since the characters in The Taxi Driver are adults it’s more evolved. It’s actually a lot closer in tone to Kuei Chih-Hung’s The Tea House and Big Brother Cheng, and it also includes a few dangerous real-life stunts, heralding the coming waves of Hong Kong stars that would define themselves with their insane stunts.

The Taxi Driver is Chen Guang (David Chiang), a good man working hard to stay afloat in modern Hong Kong. He rents a room in a house owned by an older woman, and he’s saving up to marry Heung Lai Ching (Lin Chen-Chi). His job dictates that he’s out a lot of the time, though, ferrying various types of people in all manner of situations around the town. The film does a great job of setting up the struggle of the taxi driver’s job, illustrating how the driving is the easy part and that it’s more about dealing with the odd personalities in need of a ride.

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Big Brother Cheng (1975)

Big Brother Cheng [大哥成] (1975)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Tung Lam, Wai Wang, Chung Chan-Chi, Lam Wai-Tiu, Lau Luk-Wah, Wong Yu, Fung Ging-Man, Chan Lap-Ban, Chan Mei-Hua, Shum Lo, Yeung Chak-Lam, Bruce Le

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High.


Big Brother Cheng is the smash-hit sequel to The Tea House (it was the Shaw Brothers’ 2nd biggest film of 1975!), but it’s far different than I expected it to be. At the end of the first film, Big Brother Cheng (Chen Kuan-Tai) and his family are set up to have an all-together new type of story told about them. I was excited to see this promised new direction unfold, so when it was summarily dispatched within the first minutes of Big Brother Cheng I was completely taken off guard. Instead of venturing forward into a new life, Big Brother Cheng is immediately pulled back into his role at the tea house.

As we learned in the first film, managing the tea house is more of a secondary concern of Cheng’s. His real passion lies in protecting and strengthening his community, dispensing justice where he feels that the laws have failed the honest people of the area. The first film explores this through various stories involving different levels of law enforcement and how they handle the crimes that come to them, with Cheng trying his best to keep crime at bay through diplomatic means as well as physical. Big Brother Cheng is similarly structured, but here Cheng is more fed up and ready to go on the offensive against the crime in his area. For instance, when a rape occurs Cheng and his loyal staff capture the men and ruthlessly humiliate them by making them strip and run around the room with an assortment of bottles, cans and bricks tied directly to their penises. They may not have served jail time, but there is something to be said for the deterring nature of this kind of rogue justice.

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Five Tough Guys (1974)

fivetoughguys_1Five Tough Guys [五大漢] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Hellcats

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Wai Wang, Shut Chung-Tin, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung, Ku Feng, Lily Ho Li-Li, Ling Yun, Omae Hitoshi, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching, Yeung Chi-Hing, Kong Yeung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but the title is fun.

twohalfstar


There is an abundance of promise in Five Tough Guys. A dense, unique script from the illustrious Ni Kuang deals with the changing times when guns supplanted the years of training and expertise of kung fu masters. A group of excellent actors fill the roles, with superstar Chen Kuan-Tai heading up the cast, Ku Feng as the main antagonist, and Fan Mei-Sheng’s best role since The Water Margin. And the fights are choreographed by the experienced and notable pair of Lau Kar-Wing (brother of Lau Kar-Leung) and Huang Pei-Chih (brother of Tang Chia). The elements for a great film are clearly here, but unfortunately director Pao Hsueh-Li fails to bring them together into a cohesive package.

Like many of Ni Kuang’s scripts from this era, Five Tough Guys is based in part on Chinese history. The story is set during the early days of the Republic of China (around 1915), centered around General Tsai Song-Po (Ling Yun) and his rebellion against General Yuan Shikai. Yuan was the first formal president of the Republic of China, but at the time depicted in the film he was also attempting to restore monarchy to China by naming himself Emperor. He would eventually do this, which led to the National Protection War, but these events don’t occur during the course of Five Tough Guys. The film is just focused on the flight of General Tsai through enemy territory so that he can forward the rebellion’s cause.

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The Shadow Boxer (1974)

shadowboxer_1The Shadow Boxer [太極拳] (1974)

Starring Chen Wo-Fu, Shih Szu, David Chung Gam-Gwai, Wai Wang, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheung Pak-Ling, Wang Kuang-Yu, Shum Lo, Yeung Chak-Lam, Chan Shen, Wu Chi-Chin, Lei Lung, Pao Chia-Wen, Li Min-Lang

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate. I don’t know much about it.

twohalfstar


Director Pao Hsueh-Li was one of Chang Cheh’s trusted proteges, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when The Shadow Boxer opened with a short intro detailing the philosophy of Tai Chi and showcasing the art form as performed by noted master Cheng Tin Hung (who was also the film’s technical advisor). It’s not a full-fledged short film like the one that opens Heroes Two, but it serves the same purpose in grounding the feature in a sense of martial reality. But where Heroes Two follows this up with a story that is enhanced and informed by our newfound knowledge of Hung Gar, The Shadow Boxer isn’t as successful at doing the same with Tai Chi.

Like a lot of Pao’s films, there are many elements in play that would be suitable for a Chang Cheh film; they just don’t come together in a way that brings about the deep emotions and excitement that Chang Cheh was capable of. I have hopes that as I delve deeper into the Shaw catalog Pao will eventually prove himself a capable director all his own, but for now, his films mostly feel like lesser Chang Cheh movies with unrealized potential. Pao does utilize something unique in The Shadow Boxer, though. It’s a kind of “fake slo-mo” that’s just regular footage slowed down. This might sound dumb, but it’s really effective. It’s slow, but without the grace of traditional slow motion, so there is an extra brutality to the strikes in these highlighted moments.

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The Pirate (1973)

thepirate_2The Pirate [大海盜] (1973)

Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Tin Ching, Lau Gong, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yue Fung, Dean Shek Tin, Wu Chi-Chin, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lo Dik, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ko Hung, Yuan Man-Tzu, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High. Pirates, Ti Lung, David Chiang, and Chang Cheh? How can I not be pumped?

threehalfstar


I didn’t know quite what to expect going into The Pirate, but it’s safe to say that the opening sequence fulfilled pretty much every expectation I had. The film commences with a naval battle between a British ship and a Chinese pirate ship. The pirate captain is none other than Ti Lung, playing the chivalrous pirate Chang Pao-Chai, who was a real pirate in the 19th Century. Ti Lung performs like a Chinese Errol Flynn, athletically swinging from ropes and laying waste to everyone in his path with ease after the pirates board the British ship. I’ve loved the swashbuckling good times of Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks for years, so as soon as the film started it had me right in its pocket. (Do pirates have pockets?)

Having fulfilled the average moviegoer’s idea of a pirate movie, the film is free to reveal its true nature. It’s not so much about smuggling or thieving, as it is a drama about morality. Written by that ever-resourceful scribe Ni Kuang, The Pirate slowly introduces multiple factions that each have their own goals and desires. Of course, they all intersect and conflict with one another as the plot unfurls, with two defined villains, two heroes who are also villains depending on your moral standpoint, and one neutral group that is at the mercy of the others’ whims. This landscape works to great effect in presenting the tortuous life of a pirate with enemies on all sides.

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The Blood Brothers (1973)

BloodBrothers_1The Blood Brothers [刺馬] (1973)
AKA Dynasty of Blood, Chinese Vengeance

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching-Ho, Tin Ching, Yeung Chak-Lam, Fan Mei-Sheng, Danny Lee

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.

threehalfstar


Immediately following the Shaw fanfare, The Blood Brothers explodes out of the gate. A man yells that Officer Ma has been assassinated. Oh no! This is definitely an attention-getting opening, but The Blood Brothers is actually a MUCH more reserved film than this opening would suggest. After the credits have played and the dust has settled, we learn that the assassin is Chang Wen Hsiang (David Chiang), and he asks the court to allow him some paper and ink to write down his tale. Chang doesn’t dispute that he killed Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung), but he insists that his reasoning will make sense once his full story has been told.

Nine years previous, Chang and his sworn brother Huang Chung (Chen Kuan Tai) are staking out a remote road in hopes of robbing whoever should pass their way. It’s been a slow day, but as they argue about possibly going elsewhere, a horse approaches. On it rides one Ma Hsin I, and soon Huang and Ma are trading blows. Ma is too formidable an opponent for this to be just a simple robbery, and Ma also challenges the two men with questions about the nature of the lives they lead. Ma makes an impression on them, as he is a natural leader with ambition, so the three become blood brothers and vow to join forces against the Taiping Army AKA the Long Hairs AKA the Hair Bandits. If I didn’t know the film was based on actual events, I might be inclined to think this was some kind of attack on hippies. 🙂

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King Boxer (1972)

KingBoxer_1King Boxer [天下第一拳] (1972)
AKA Five Fingers of Death

Starring Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wong Gam-Fung, Tien Feng, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Yau Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Chiu Hung, Someno Yukio, Yeung Chak-Lam, Hung Sing-Chung, Bolo Yeung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Opening with the sound of an alarm, King Boxer lets you know straight away that it is a film to take notice of. As an advancement of the budding hand-to-hand genre, King Boxer is exactly the film the genre needed at this point in time. It builds on the foundation set by previous films — specifically The Chinese Boxer and Fist of Fury — and takes the genre closer to what it would later become. There’s no secret why this is the film that broke through to America and created a kung fu sensation; it’s an amazingly entertaining and well-made piece of work.

At the heart of the tale is the oft-told story of battling martial arts clans, but in King Boxer it’s the way the story is told that sets it apart. It is both rooted in martial arts traditions and something unique. It takes facets of the traditional kung fu film and orders them in a non-traditional way, resulting in a film that feels familiar, yet is never boring or predictable. It also explores its themes of jealousy, courage and cowardice much more fully than the traditional ’70s martial arts film, making King Boxer fulfilling on multiple levels.

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